Council votes to keep incorrect Maniototo spelling

by Kim Bowden - May 29, 2024

A ward and attached community board in Central Otago will keep its name - Maniototo - despite it having no meaning in te reo Māori, after a messy procedural process from the Central Otago District Council.

District Mayor Tim Cadogan was a sole vote at a meeting today for a change to 'Māniatoto'.

In rounding up the debate among elected members the mayor said he was voting for a "correction" and not a "change".

"It comes down for me, that a mistake has been made.

"This organisation followed this mistake."

Elected members were told by language experts the current spelling delivered a place name with no meaning in a te reo Māori context, and it was the mayor's view the council now needed to "get it right".

"Is our mistake more important than a peoples' language?," he asked those around the council table.

The decision was made as part of a wider representation review process, which needs to happen every six years and generally addresses the make up of the council, wards and community boards moving forward.

Council staff today apologised to councillors for earlier reporting to them that local Māori representatives were "neutral" on the Maniototo versus Māniatoto debate.

An extraordinary meeting of the Maniototo Community Board was required to be held on Monday to revisit the conversation in light of a submission from local rūnaka saying they were "wholeheartedly of the view" that the spelling of 'Maniototo' be corrected "wherever it is used".

It was the second extraordinary meeting to be called in the representation review process - the first being after an earlier council resolution was deemed to be too lightweight for what is required by local government legislation.

Addressing elected members of the council via a digital link today, Emeritus Professor Khyla Russell, speaking to the submission by Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki, was clear: unless the first 'o' is ditched in favour of a second 'a', the word "doesn't have a meaning for all".

She explained, when spelt correctly, the name references the tussocks that once covered the plains in the area.

"It would be nice to have it corrected, but we know it is never easy."

Maniototo councillor Stu Duncan reported back to councillors on his read of the mood of the room in the ward, where on Monday the community board choose to stick to its guns despite the position of the rūnaka.

He said in his years in local government, the debate had been one of the "toughest and galvanising" the community had faced.

The only other topic that came close was when "they tried to shut down the back in Ranfurly".

In his view, 90 percent of people on the ground wanted the name to stay as it was, even if some were "possibly a wee bit misinformed about some of the issues" and "just angry about change".

He urged councillors to follow the wishes of the community board.

"What is the point of having our community board if we don't listen to them?," he asked.

For the most part, councillors agreed with him, even those who acknowledged a preference for correcting the spelling.

"Personally, the name should be changed, without a doubt," Deputy Mayor Neil Gillespie said.

"I just don't think this (the representation review) is the right process."

Vincent councillor Tamah Alley was also clear in her view the place name needed to be corrected but this was not the time for it.

She said she wanted to bring the community "on the journey".

"I want to see them embrace it and really understand and own that name.

"It shouldn't be done by us, sitting at a table an hour away."

Cromwell councillor Cheryl Laws echoed the sentiment, suggesting it would be "arrogant" of decision makers to ignore what the community board had to say.

The decision means the Central Otago District Council remains split in the way it deals with the place name - two years ago staff made the call to reflect the correct te reo Māori spelling of Māniatoto in general use.

In today's debate, Cromwell councillor Nigel McKinlay said he thought that had been a "shockingly poor decision", made "arbitrarily".

"The wishes of the community are paramount."

He said it was his view language is not "written in stone" and is "dynamic", so he was "relaxed" about the spelling.

Vincent councillor Lynley Claridge said the name as it was currently written had "meaning for the people of the Maniototo".

Main image: Wikimedia Commons

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